Addressing racism in pain research

Photo of Edwin Aroke

By Erica Techo

University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing Associate Professor and Dual DNP-PhD Pathway Director Edwin Aroke, PhD, CRNA, FAAN, continues to confront the relationship between race, pain management and pain research.

Aroke and collaborators recently published a three-part series calling for a shift in the pain research paradigm in order to confront the influence of racism in pain research. The Journal of Pain published the series, which covers the historical and theoretical background of the topic, describes research designs that perpetuate racism and issues a call to action for establishing an antiracism framework in research.

“One of the silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has given us time for introspection and reflection,” Aroke said. “For a while now, pain researchers, health care providers and policymakers have used race and other demographic variables such as sex and age to predict risk, quality of care and health disparities. Focusing on race falsely suggests that it’s a biological variable, which perpetuates disparities as it says to minoritized individuals something is inherently wrong with you. As we advance, I hope that pain researchers and providers will shift their attention from this arbitrary construct called race to racism and its impact on health.”

This paper is one piece of Aroke’s research and works to address racism in pain management and research. Aroke’s program of research focuses on racial pain disparities and frequently discusses how racism, rather than skin color, leads to disparities in pain.

Aroke also recently published a study on the role of racial disparities in chronic low back pain, which discussed how the socially constructed concept of race and racism could epigenetically influence everyday life, thereby altering stress signaling pathways that can trigger chronic low back pain. Aroke also serves as a subject matter expert on the American Nurses Association Commission to Address Racism in Nursing.

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